Deputy Attorney General-designate, federal prosecutor Rod Rosenstein, listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Yesterday afternoon, FBI agents conducted a surprise raid on the hotel room and offices of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in New York. The raid was conducted by a search warrant requested by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and approved by a federal magistrate judge.
We are authoritatively told that the FBI raiding a lawyer’s offices and residence and seizing protected correspondence is totally usual but there was media attention. (Here I’d like to point out that even though John Gotti’s attorney, Bruce Cutler, was heard on wiretaps in conversations that seemed to indicate he had advance knowledge of criminal activity, evidence that was strong enough that the presiding judge disqualified him from Gotti’s defense because he might be a witness, the FBI did not raid Cutler’s office or residence or even issue a subpoena to Cutler for documents.)
Early stories said the raid was unconnected to Mueller’s inquisition but was based on information developed by Mueller and referred to the Southern District of New York. Now the New York Times is reporting what caused the search:
The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said.
The search warrant carried out by the public corruption unit of the Manhattan federal attorney’s office seeks information about Karen McDougal, an ex-Playboy model who claims she carried on a nearly yearlong affair with Mr. Trump shortly after the birth of his son in 2006. Ms. McDougal was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, whose chief executive is a friend of Mr. Trump’s.
Agents were also searching Michael D. Cohen’s office for information related to Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who says she also had sex with Mr. Trump while he was married. Mr. Cohen has acknowledged that he paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement to secure her silence just days before the 2016 presidential election.
Apparently, the US Attorney recused himself from any involvement in the raid, presumably because he’s a Trump appointee:
SCOOP: ABC News has learned Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is recused from the Michael Cohen investigation. He had no role in raid of Cohen's office. Another recusal that will make @realDonaldTrump unhappy.
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) April 10, 2018
The interesting thing in the article is that either the NYT tries to give Rod Rosenstein a fig leaf or Rosenstein tries to give himself one by going off-the-record:
While Mr. Rosenstein must sign off on all moves that Mr. Mueller makes, that is not necessarily the case for searches — like this one — that are carried out by other federal law enforcement offices. Justice Department regulations require prosecutors to consult with senior criminal prosecutors in Washington — but not necessarily the deputy attorney general — before conducting a search of a lawyer’s files.
But they also carry a report that Rosenstein personally approved the search.
Really? The president’s attorney is treated like some kind of night court hustler and Rosenstein didn’t know? Puh-leeze.
IANAL, but this really seems like overkill considering the allegations. Was Cohen going to destroy the documents? There is no evidence presented that that was a consideration. (Read this on the subject of searches of lawyers’ offices.)
In fact, divorced of the Mueller investigation, this whole episode makes zero sense.
So one is really left with two explanations that fit the facts. The first is that the US Attorney in NYC was handed a stinkbomb by Mueller so he recused himself. His deputy had to either react to it like he’d just found the location of Jimmy Hoffa or be accused of covering up for Trump.
The second is that this is a convenient way to obtain privileged communications between Trump and his lawyer that will trickle out into the press over the next several weeks…because we all know that is going to happen.